A local property in Riverdale Park is slated to bring an array of prominent retail for a multi-use development, including a Whole Foods market, but some intricate concerns may stagger its plans.
“We’re the perfect audience for Whole Foods,” Mayor John Tabori of University Park said, in regards to the business’ customer base. “But not if it's not convenient and difficult to walk there, and if the construction and development are disruptive.”
Three years ago, the 38.5-acre area of land off Route 1 owned by the Cafritz family was tapped for development purposes, expected to turn into a multi-use property. The plans had since stagnated as speculation surrounded whether the plans were legit, until the owners sat down with county officials on May 12 to present plans for Whole Foods and the rest of their available retail space, although it's currently only zoned for single-family homes.
Riverdale Park Councilwoman Alice Ewen (Ward 1) is excited about the ambitious plans that are being offered and particularly excited about Whole Foods coming to Riverdale Park and Prince George’s County.
Ewen said the area would greatly benefit from having a variety of housing — like condominiums, townhouses and upscale apartments — and new retailers.
However, she’s glad to hear that all parties involved are coming together to find solutions.
“We’d been talking to them and they showed us that Whole Foods was real,” said Brad Frome, Deputy Chief of Staff for Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. “They wanted to show folks that this was reality and that we want to be apart of this project.”
Frome sat in the meeting with County Executive Rushern Baker, and asserted that while they weren’t in favor of the whole project yet, since it hasn’t presented itself in full, they do support the idea of bringing the market to Riverdale Park. It would be the first in Prince George's County.
That, and the bulk of retail that Cafritz’ development will bring, is a great amenity to residents, Frome said. Plenty of residents shop at Whole Foods but leave the county to do so; bringing the store to Riverdale Park will help residents benefit from the tax revenue it will generate.
Despite its benefits, it’s the first round of planning for the development, and the overwhelming challenges of the location will make it difficult to get full support from all parties involved.
“I think there are challenges with the overall development,” said Councilman Eric Olson. “They’re proposing a large scale development. When you put a large scale development on the corridor, you have to be aware of the transportation challenges.”
According to Olson, there is limited infrastructure in the area. A heavy retail strip will only further congest the Route 1, which is already experiencing backups and is at full capacity.
“We want a more walkable, bike-able and pedestrian-oriented community environment,” Ewen said. “At the same time I think there’s room for development in the area.”
A traffic study was presented at the meeting to dive into the issues, but no solutions were presented. The study also only covered two separate rush hours and would need additional analysis, said Tabori.
“You have to look at particular spots,” he said. “You have to look at things from every angle. There are other points in the day when queuing might occur that will disrupt the town.”
Tabori suggested that an independent study be constructed by someone with an “unbiased point of view and expert credentials.” Cafritz’ engineers were talented, he said, but there could be subtle bias if they’re looking out for their client’s best interest, and if their interests don’t coincides with the regions.
"We have to realize that Route 1 is a corridor in a metropolitan area," Ewen said. "Traffic is going to be an issue."
In addition to the traffic concerns the development raises, the roughly 100,000 square footage of retail space that will be left over after Whole Foods could cause problems if it isn’t fully developed. The nearby available spaces at Prince George’s Plaza are difficult to upkeep and lease as the project is still trying to garner retail attention. Adding another development space on top of that poses a major risk if it does poorly, as well.
Next on the town’s agenda is to get an engineering report done to look at managing the storm water drains, as a stream flows directly under Route 1. But elected officials agree that they want to see the Cafritz’ property do well – the plans just need to be scrutinized a bit more to ensure its success.
“We’re not opposed to reasonable development,” Tabori said. “What concerns us is just the impact and the exact formation of it.”
She said it’s up to representatives however to protect water quality and for developers to minimize their storm water impact, however a she thinks a retailer like Whole Foods will be as green as possible.
Owners for the Cafritz Property were not available for comment in time for this piece.
Sonia Dasgupta contributed to this report.